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How Hawaii's Last Queen Inspired The Islands' New Heritage Jewelry Brand

Take a look at how Hawaii's inspired the islands' new heritage jewelry brand. Visitors to Hawaii frequently leave with jewelry that reminds them of their time on the beach, such as diamond-studded palm tree earrings and mother-of-pearl dolphin pendants.

Feb 15, 20230 Shares347 ViewsWritten By: Johnny K.Reviewed By: Luke Williams
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  1. From Vintage Bracelets To Fine Jewelry - The Story Of HIE Heirlooms Of Hawaii

Take a look at how Hawaii'sinspired the island's new heritage jewelrybrand. Visitors to Hawaii frequently leave with jewelry that reminds them of their time on the beach, such as diamond-studded palm tree earringsand mother-of-pearl dolphin pendants.

However, for many native Hawaiians, such as lifelong friends Meleana Estes and Nol Pietsch Shaw, another jewelry tradition is more important.

Its origins can be traced back to 1862, when the young future Queen of Hawaii, Lydia Lilu Loloku Walania Kamakaeha, sat for an official engagement portrait wearing a solid goldbracelet of her own design.

The bracelet was inscribed with the Hawaiian phrase "Hoʻomanaʻo Mau," which means "to remember always," by Liliuokalani.

From Vintage Bracelets To Fine Jewelry - The Story Of HIE Heirlooms Of Hawaii

Over the years, the women in the queen's inner circle began replicating her 14-karat gold bracelet and passing them down through a matrilineal succession that still exists today.

The vintage bracelets, known for their black enamel Gothic lettering and designed to be worn tight around the wrist, are the inspiration for Estes and Shaw's new fine jewelry brand, HIE Heirlooms of Hawaii. (He-eh is a Hawaiian verb that means "to beautify" or "to make one's manner or appearance distinctive, elegant, or distinguished.")

Both women grew up admiring their mothers' and grandmothers' bracelets. Estes, an Oahu-based stylist, and influencer tell Robb Report:

I always knew when I was 16, I’d get my bracelet. It was the bracelet my mom had been holding for me. It was made for her by my grandmother when I was born, with the intention of passing it on.- Estes

Meleana Estes and Noel Pietsch-Shaw
Meleana Estes and Noel Pietsch-Shaw

Shaw, a Honolulu-born luxury real estate agent, has a similar story:

Even though my mom is from the East coast, she married a Hawaiian and was gifted bracelets when her three kids were born. That’s what was on mom’s arm. One had my sister’s Hawaiian name on it, one had my Hawaiian name and the other had my brother’s Hawaiian name.- Honolulu-born luxury real estate agent

When it came time for the women to buy bracelets for their own children, they couldn't find the same simple, flat gold styles that had been given to them.

"We wanted to continue this tradition, but a lot of the guys who made ours had passed on," Estes says. "People would stop me at least twice a week at, say, the dentist’s office. ‘Where you’d get yours?’ And I’d say, ‘They’re old style, I got them when I was born.'"

In 2019, the two Honolulu-based women began sketching the beginnings of their own collection. HIE made its debut in late January, one pandemic and countless hours later.

The collection includes nine styles of 14-karat yellow or rose gold bracelets in varying sizes priced from $3,200 to $5,900, which are available online, at the new Ron Herman flagship boutique in Waikiki, and at monthly trunk shows in Honolulu.

The styles include the Amelia Ana, which borrows its traditional look from the bracelet Estes received from her tūtū (grandmother) Amelia Ana Kaʻōpua Bailey; the 1881 Fleur de Lis, inspired by a rose gold bangle that Shaw inherited from her great-great-great-grandmother, a confidant of Queen Lili'uokalani; and a modernized diamond-decked style named Tūtū Leslie after Shaw's late grandmother, Leslie Maunakapu Long Pietsch, who owned a similar bangle.

The HIE bracelets stand out for their seductively sentimental qualities, in addition to their vintage-inspired aesthetic. Almost every piece can be engraved both inside and out. Shaw says:

Everyone knows what to put on the front. It could be a name, a place, a saying in Hawaiian or English, it all depends on what you’ve gone through in life. But they have to get back to me about what to put on the inside. If I make a bracelet for my daughters, that’s a message they’ll have from mom forever.- Shaw

And that is the point. The bangles are made without clasps or hinges and are meant to be slipped over a clenched fist and remain there as a permanent ode to all of life's greatest hits (and misses).

That's one of the reasons Estes and Shaw chose 14-karat gold, which is harder and thus less prone to damage than higher-karat options. Estes says:

Women in Hawaii are really active. We’re jumping in the ocean all the time, going for a hike, making a lei in our garden. We don’t take off our jewelry as much.- Estes

“They’re such a part of you, such a precious thing, and many women feel safer with them on their bodies,” Estes adds. “You have many pairs of earrings, but you only have one Hawaiian bracelet. They’re meant to wear with time, to collect your stories and your essence.”

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